Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Steps to a More Perfect Container Garden

Last year I showed you how I started my seedlings indoors.  My process worked, but as I have been upgrading my container garden, I decided a needed I a little bit more preparation this year in order to have a smoother spring/summer.  Usually I plant seedlings and put those seedlings into pots when they are big enough to go outside, however I never really thought through the space or number of pots that I had on hand.  So, I ended up putting a plant in either too small or too big of a pot, not having enough tomato cages, or not having the space to put them altogether.  This year, I decided to decide what my garden is going to look like BEFORE I start my seedlings so that I don’t waste time or effort later when it comes time to put them outside.

Last spring, the Mr. Fix-it husband upgraded my watering system from hoses and 360 degree sprayers that mostly just got the ground wet, to a fantastic built in piping system that allows me to have rows of container plants on my deck!  This is perfect because from where our kitchen is, I get to look out at my garden each day, as well as have easy access to the veggies for a fresh salsa or salad.  Below is a picture of what my “garden” ended up being organized last year:

I really enjoyed this set up last year, so I decided I wanted to do the same thing this year.  But first, I had to decide what I want to grow.  I had a few plants last year that I still have in the freezer that I don’t need anymore of (lookin’ at you jalapeno pepper plant) and some new ones I wanted to try. 

I started this process by writing down a list of the plants I knew I wanted to grow (tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, and herbs), then looked through my seedbox to find the seeds I already had on hand, and then looked through several seed catalogs to find new plants that I hadn’t grown before.  This process took most of January.  I took my time with this process because, everything was frozen and I really enjoyed looking at all the plant catalogs!  This process shouldn’t be rushed, and I wanted to take  to think about what I wanted to harvest in the future. 

Part of the process of looking at my own seeds included building my own seed storage box.  While searching for my seeds, I realized I had them stashed in all sorts of places and I wanted one container to call my seed box.  I shopped in catalogs as well as online for a box that I liked, but I couldn’t find anything in the shape or price range I wanted, so I decided to use my new wood working hobby to make my own.  (Let me know in the comments if you’d like to see the process in a post!)

After I had settled on a list of plants and purchased seeds for the items I didn’t already own, I decided to stay organized and write this information down.  (I know, sounds simple, right?)  I have not been very good at keeping a garden journal so I don’t have a good sense of what time of year we normally have our last real frost.  There are several websites with rules of thumb, so I decided to use that date until I had a better understanding from my “future” garden journals.  My area’s average last frost date is April 15th.  This date is important because most seed packets reference a “start you seeds” date based on the last frost for the year.  I made a list of each item, how many weeks before or after the frost date they should be planted and made an excel formula to tell me when I need to start the seeds (yes, I’m an excel nerd).  Now I know exactly when to start the seeds for each item instead of looking at each of the seed packets each weekend and doing to math to decide if I need to start some or not. 

Once I had the seedling start date, I needed to decide how many seedlings to start!  In order to do that, I need to know how many mature plants I want.  I started to list in my same spreadsheet the quantity of mature plants.  This would be another helpful piece of information to keep in a garden journal, for example, do four tomato plants produce the quantity of tomatoes I need, or should I plant five to keep up?  Or were eight eggplants too much for one year and I should cut back to six the next, etc.  I had to guess this year based on what I remember from last year and picked out how many I wanted of each.  I then categorized each item by what type of pot they would go into, and used a count formula to add up the quantity of each type of pot.  This way, I already know many of each kind of pot I need.  Lucky for me, I have twenty of my five gallon vegetable pots and I want exactly twenty vegetable plants (don’t you just love it when a plan comes together)?

Here is an idea of the pots that I use:
  • Vegetable Pots:  mix of different five gallon pots are the perfect size for one plant (tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplants, etc).
  • Small Pots:  mix of one to two gallon pots for smaller herb or lettuce plants
  • Rectangular Pots:  foot long rectangular plants for onions (see post here).
  • Trough:  very large 150 gallon trough on sale that I am going to try and use for large crops, and perhaps potatoes in the future
  • Grill:  an old grill that I converted into a planter which is the perfect standing height for a planter and works well for small herb plants like basil, rosemary, and cilantro.     
  • Decorative:  pretty pots I have collected over the years that I use for flowers

Once I had my full list of plants, quantities, and pots, I decided to map out how the container garden would look, much like my 2018 view.  This is really helpful because, now I don’t have to think about where I’m going to put each plant when it comes time to place them outside in a couple of months!  I already did all the work!

Now to get started on those seedlings!

How do you decide what to plant?  Do you keep a garden journal?  I want to know!

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